Teed Off (Jul.14 2013)

with Robert Bicknell

I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling lately from players about the slow play on golf courses due to extensive gambling. In short, the higher the bets, the more “careful” (read: slow) the players become and, since they are usually “important”, the staff are afraid to tell them to keep pace.

What’s interesting is that it’s the Vietnamese players complaining.

While this is hardly earth-shattering news, the problem seems worse lately than in the past, mostly from an influx of new players, many of them never read the chapter on “etiquette” in the Rules of Golf.

A few years ago, we had this problem, but the players were more considerate of others and, once spoken to, they most always complied with the marshal’s request. In 21 years of running clubs in Vietnam, I cannot recall any group that I had to speak with more than twice.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case nowadays.

With the economic downturn and the increased competition from new clubs opening, many owners have deliberately turned a “blind eye” to violations of club rules because they don’t want to risk losing business, so players run amok from time to time. The problem with this policy is that once someone knows they can get away with breaking a few rules, they believe they can break all the rules with impunity.

More disturbing is that I have also heard that, at a few clubs, a few dollars in the right pocket will guarantee you a higher handicap. This is something that really upsets me as I was the one who helped most clubs establish the handicap system back in 1998 – 2004. When I helped them, it was iron-clad and strictly enforced.

So, what happened?

Apparently, some players are looking for every possible way to win and if that includes manipulating the system, so be it. Once again, this is something that I and other club managers were able to bring under control back in the day, but with current conditions, more people at lower levels are eager to feather their nests. They see everyone making money and they want their share of the pie.

Let me get something straight right off the bat. There is nothing wrong with making a friendly wager on the golf course – it’s part of the game. But when the stakes rise to ridiculous levels, shenanigans are more likely to happen.

When I first came south in 1998, I found a “win at any cost” mentality amongst the players and the winning net score in some tournaments were anywhere from 57 -61. As Tiger Woods was not in the event, it was a safe bet that there was a lot of cheating going on and we took steps to stop these people from getting away with it.

The handicap system was strictly enforced; we added a maximum net under par score with the lowest handicap winning all ties and, most importantly, urged the members to police themselves by posting the handicaps publicly. On the first of every month, the new handicaps were posted and I would smile as people either smiled or ripped their hair.

Marshals had the support of management and, while remaining respectful, were not cowed by the members. They did their jobs and the members approved because the rules were applied fairly to everyone.

I believe that clubs might want to consider taking steps to re-educate their members. Perhaps by giving copies of the Rules of Golf to members as part of the yearly gift. Or during the club championship awards, include one for “Most Courteous Member”.

Having a committee comprised of the most respected members from the major ethnic groups meet once per month to discuss club activities and problems, is also a help. While a member might not readily accept a rebuke without bluster from the club, they will accept it from one of their own who holds a higher socio-economic / political position.

In short, once again the members police their own.

Players should not lose sight of the fact that it remains a “gentleman’s game” and that certain rules apply equally to everyone and that’s what makes golf special. We don’t have referees and red cards on the golf course.

Teachers should include rules and etiquette as part of their lessons to new players.

Let’s keep golf fun for everyone! — VNS

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